December 17, 2008

George E. Howard, Shell Garden

pictures (around 2000) courtesy of Ann Davey
(Cream Tea Club website)

The Shell Garden, a site once beloved by locals and holidaymakers, located in the community of Southbourne on England's south coast, isn't extant anymore.

Life and works 

The man who made this site, George Howard (1898-1986), at first had a job as a coal miner in South Wales and later served in the marine, a job that led him to sail many seas in the world.

When retired in the 1940's, he and his wife settled  in Southbourne in a house on Overcliff Drive facing the sea.

Howard's lifelong passion for shells activated him to collect them, a hobby probably facilitated by his many travels.

In 1948 he decided to transform the front garden of his house into a shell decorated art environment.

For almost twenty years Howard has been active in creating the Shell Garden.

Located on a street along the seaside, the site could easily be entered by passers-by. As above picture shows, the garden was provided with benches which allowed visitors to quietly enjoy views of the garden and the sea.

The picture also shows that Howard paved the ground with mosaics, apparently made by using slices of monochromatic tiles.

The vertical constructions in the garden, such as the wall (of a small grotto) pictured above, also were decorated, in this instance by adorned tiles and inlays of shells.

The garden had some special features. One attraction was a very large shell, transported from the Philippines, so giant it could seat a child, which would enable making nice photo-shoots of course. "Please take a photo of your wee one sitting in shell", Howard noticed on a plaque (wee one is Irish and means small one).

Other plaques informed the visitors that this was "the worlds most unique shell garden" or invited them to throw some money in a fountain (the collected money would be donated to charitable institutions, such as the local hospital).

The website Cream Tea Club has a page with pictures of a number of the plaques Howard had placed in the garden, some with proverbs, others with wisdom and advice for everyday use. Take a look, because "to see much is to learn much", a phrase coined by.....?

Other features of the garden were shrines and two grotto's, a large and a small one, all abundantly decorated on the outside and the inside, occasionally with very big shells, but mainly with smaller ones, probably collected on nearby beaches.

The site ultimately has been demolished

After Howard and his wife had died (in 1986 resp 1989), their son and his wife continued taking care of the garden.

However, end 2000, early 2001, with pain in their hearts, the family made the decision to remove the site. Their main argument was, that the garden had been vandalized so many times. On February 5th 2001 the site has been cleared away.

More pictures/documentation
* Video on the Pathé website with movies from former times. 
* Another video, shot in 1992 by Bogardesbar (You Tube, 1"15', uploaded 2012)

* More pictures and a letter from a granddaughter of George Howard, explaining why the site had to be cleared away,  on Andy Foot's website dealing with local activities and sights in Southbourne.
* The shell garden on the Cream Tea Club website, with an informative review and many pictures and on another page pictures and reviews of texts on plaques made by Howard

first published dec 2008, last revised jan 2019

George E. Howard
Shell Garden
(formerly on) Overcliff Drive
Southbourne, Dorset, South West England, UK
site demolished

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